Is your child in daycare? Research shows that there is no need to worry about behavior problems

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Previous research indicates that time spent in early daycare correlates with high levels of behavior problems in young children. However, the validity of this work has been controversial and its relevance outside the United States has been questioned.

Now, new research has used longitudinal databases from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and the United States to better understand whether time spent in early childhood centers harms children. The study was published in Child development by researchers at Boston College, the University of Oslo, the University of Minnesota, the German Youth Institute, the German Institute for International Educational Research, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Utrecht University, the University of Montreal, the University of Bordeaux and the Norwegian Center for Behavioral Development.

“This is the first study on the topic that brings together analyzes of data from multiple countries with different sociopolitical contexts, allowing us to address generalizability and replicability concerns in the literature,” as explained by lead author Catalina Rey-Guerra, co-director of Fundación Apapacho and Fellow of the Institute of Early Childhood Policy at Boston College.

“Tests and research have shown almost no evidence that extended time in childcare centers causes behavior problems in young children. The findings are reassuring for parents whose children spend time in daycare centers while working.” .

Researchers examined whether within-child changes in center-based care predicted changes in externalizing problems, such as fighting, biting, or fighting, in 10,105 toddlers and preschoolers (49% females) across data collected from 1993 to 2012. Data were analyzed across seven studies including Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, two from Canada, and two from the United States. Countries vary in their social policies relevant to family leave and public provision and regulation of early childhood education and care (e.g. enrollment in centre-based care and maternity leave varies by country to country). Data on race/ethnicity was collected in the United States only (57% and 80% White; 42% and 13% African American; 1.2% and 5% Latino).

Where available, information from teachers’ externalized problem reports was used; otherwise parental reports were drawn. Reports from teachers and/or parents varied across countries and included ratings of behaviors such as ‘hitting, biting, kicking other children’ and ‘fighting more’, ‘fighting or bullying other children’ and ‘may being naughty with others’, ‘restless and can’t sit still’ and ‘the child fights a lot’. In most studies, the amount of caregiving was measured by the number of hours a week children attended caregiving at a center excluding any other type of caregiving arrangements (such as home care from a parent or group care by a relative or non-relative) referred by the primary caregiver (most often mothers) at all times.

Through a variety of statistical tests and across seven datasets from five countries, the researchers found almost no evidence that extended time in early-center childcare causes behavior problems in young children. Furthermore, the studies showed no evidence that the association between centre-based care and outsourcing problems differed as a function of household income or parental education, despite considerable socioeconomic variation in each of the seven samples.

The authors acknowledge several limitations in their research. The research has only looked at short-term effects, so I am unable to assess whether long-term harms could emerge from center-based care. Additionally, the samples in the present study were not nationally representative, although they did represent diverse populations in the distribution of socioeconomic status.

Further research needs to explore whether these findings could generalize to children living in sociopolitical contexts other than those in high-income countries. The researchers were unable to examine what would have happened if the children in the studies had not been enrolled in day care centers and those with disadvantaged backgrounds (for example, unemployed parents, low-income, and single-parent families) were overrepresented among those who never entered in the treatment center. Therefore, an additional measure of caution is warranted when generalizing the findings of the current study to these children.

“Understanding whether time spent in early childhood harms children, and how pervasive that harm may be, is critical to guiding global social and economic policy,” Rey-Guerra said.

“Healthy economies depend on parents of young children participating in the workforce in ways that ensure healthy development for their children and the future economy. With this in mind, continued research into practices and policies that ensure childcare supports the well-being of children and families should remain an international priority”.

More information:
Do more in-center service hours cause more outsourcing problems? A transnational replication study, Child development (2022). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13871

Provided by the Society for Research in Child Development

Citation: Is your child in a nursery? Research Shows No Need to Worry About Behavioral Problems (2022, Nov 17) Retrieved Nov 17, 2022 from

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